In brief, these concepts and the benefits that flow from them aren’t just for Dirty Hippies, Slackers, and Hipsters. And contemplate for a moment how closely the streetcar neighborhood in Grand Rapids resembles our own patch of this earth in terms of the richness of accessible amenities. I’ll just leave the opening preamble of the Charter of the New Urbanism, quoted in the article, here while noting that even as Boston’s population grows and the initial issue is not so much about private disinvestment, we still struggle with bringing our city’s politics, policies, and actions around to meet the challenges that remain:
The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.
With the books now closed on 2017, let’s take a moment to reflect on another year in the life of WalkUP Roslindale, your neighborhood walk-bike-transit-Y/QIMBY (Yes/Quality in My Backyard) citizens group. In the opinion of your humble correspondent, below are the top 7 highlights of the year just concluded. Comments, corrections, and additions are always welcome!
Washington Street Operational Bus Improvements Pilot – It came late in the year (and on just 2 Tuesday mornings in December). But the first test of a bus-only lane (shared with people on bikes as well) on Washington Street from Roslindale Square to Ukraine Way from 7 am to 9 am was a widely-hailed successful proof of concept. Bus riders saved significant time, people riding bikes in the corridor generally approved of the shared lane, and the Boston Transportation Department and the MBTA showed they could work quite well together on the first such test case in an outlying neighborhood. It is hard to overstate how big a deal this is — there are several corridors around Boston that desperately need the kind of low-upfront-capital but meaningful time-saving improvements to bus service that was demonstrated for the first time in this city here in Roslindale. A full 2-week pilot is reportedly planned for the spring. Dates and specifics are still TBD. WalkUP Roslindale will do everything it can to support the full pilot and ultimately implementation of a permanent set of improvements. We appreciate the advocacy and support of the proposal from City Councilors Wu and McCarthy as well as BTD’s strong performance on the 2 days of the operational pilot. Special thanks are also owed to LivableStreets Alliance for their persistent advocacy, particularly their Street Ambassadors, who teamed with certain WUR diehards (Messrs. Tedrow, Gag, and Tobin come to mind) on outreach this fall and then during the operational pilot.
Mt. Hope-Canterbury gets Roslindale’s nod for the Neighborhood Slow Streets Program – A grand total of 47 applications were submitted to BTD’s program to install new neighborhood slow streets areas around Boston. Five applicants were picked, and our own Mt. Hope-Canterbury area in eastern Roslindale made the cut. We look forward to seeing the work of MHC stalwarts Lisa Beatman and Rick Yoder and their neighbors in that part of our neighborhood come to fruition in their new NSS by year-end. And herewith our periodic reminder that everyone in Boston deserves to live on a safe street. Everyone on every street in every neighborhood.
Roslindale’s First Street Mural– Our neighborhood’s first street mural was laid down in June at the intersection of Conway and South streets, on the Peters Hill side of the MBTA commuter rail station. This was a great community building event and collaboration with the Mayor’s Mural Crew staff (especially Heidi Schork), BTD, Roslindale Village Main Street, Cornell Coley (Roslindale’s Artist-in-Residence), and our own Rachele Rosi-Kessel, Rebecca Phillips, Mandana Moshtaghi, and Ann-Marie Lawlor.
At-Large City Councilors and Candidates Forum on Active Mobility Issues – WUR was significantly gratified to pull together a forum featuring all 8 current councilors and candidates in October to discuss active mobility issues affecting Roslindale and the city at large. Attendance was strong and we were able to livestream the forum as it was progressing. Particular thanks are due for this event to the Roslindale Community Center for making their downstairs meeting room available for an extended period on the evening of the forum.
Green Shoots Pedestrian Improvements in Roslindale Square – WUR’s late 2015 collaboration with WalkBoston on a walk audit of Roslindale Square finally bore fruit in the spring of this year when key improvements were made to the Basile/Washington crosswalk (including fix the blinking yellow light, installing a handicapped accessible ramp and daylighting with flexposts) and Belgrade/South (including no parking in the area between the crosswalks and daylighting with flexposts). In addition to these major changes, we also saw a new crosswalk near the Robert Street underpass for the MBTA and a new crosswalk center delineator on Belgrade near Robert/Corinth. We hope to see more improvements around the square in the coming year.
Roslindale Gateway Path continues to make progress and draws major foundation support – The early spring saw the release of the 10% design for the Roslindale Gateway Path at a community meeting at the Arnold Arboretum’s Weld Hill research facility, followed a couple of months later by an announcement of formal collaboration with the Arboretum Park Conservancy on a combined Roslindale Gateway/Blackwell Path project. The combined path effort then had the good fortune, with support from LivableStreets Alliance, the Arboretum and BTD, to obtain funding from the Solomon Foundation for advancing the design to the 25% level. Look for the release of the 25% design at some point this spring.
Smarter residential development continues across the neighborhood – Last, but not least, WUR advanced our Y/QIMBY agenda in support of residential development that we thought worthwhile, especially 874-878 South Street (around the corner from your correspondent’s house), 32 CumminsHighway (down the block from the post office), and 4281 Washington Street (the Brayton’s Upholstery building). Our city is growing and need to welcome new residents by building new units form them instead of making them compete with existing residents over existing units.
Our eagerness to support development is neither unlimited nor uncritical, however. In the case of this project, WalkUP is withholding support for the zoning relief requested by the developer based on a design that is sorely lacking. We are likely to get only one crack at each of these new buildings in our lifetimes, so it behooves us to get it right. We are hopeful that the developer will take our constructive criticism to heart and improve the proposed designed before its zoning appeal hearing, which is likely to be scheduled in October. We’ll post updates here as we get them, either on the design or the hearing date. In the meantime, our full comments are below and also available as the PDF letter as submitted to the Board of Appeal.
Last week, we sent a letter to the Boston Board of Appeal in support of a proposed expansion of a self-service storage facility at 44 Lochdale Road (just off Washington Street near Forest Hills). The full letter is reproduced below. Although we typically focus on housing and retail that will improve street-level vitality and walkability, off-site storage also has its place in vibrant urban neighborhoods, particularly as density increases and some folks chose to live in smaller units and thus need some overflow space. We also see the proposal as a substantial improvement over current conditions; for these reasons, we sent the letter below.
Having received our letter and encountering no opposition (at least at the hearing), the Board of Appeal approved the requested zoning variations on July 25, 2017.
We know WalkUP Roslindale’s walk audit in December 2015 wasn’t the first time members of our neighborhood identified the crosswalk at the intersection of Washington and Basile streets as being in need of safety improvements. Indeed, we recognized at at the time that we were joining a long line of activists who had already called for changes at this important crossing at the northern entrance to Roslindale Square that is the main access point from the west for students going to and from the Sumner School. It was accordingly great to see city contractors out at this intersection in the last few weeks and days reinforcing the recently signed no-parking/standing areas adjacent to the crosswalk, installing curb-ramps, fixing the flashing yellow light, and installing the pedestrian crossing bollard and flexposts in almost all the required areas (the area right on the southbound side is, we believe, awaiting the completion of utility work before flexposts will go in).
We all recognize that there is more work to be done throughout the square and the entire neighborhood to improve walking and cycling and overall safety for all users of our streets. But we will pause for this moment to thank everyone who had a hand this, starting with walkBoston, who took us through the walk audit, and including the Mayor’s Office for Neighborhood Services, Councilors McCarthy and Wu, the Boston Transportation and Public Works Departments, and Roslindale Village Main Street.
Washington Street is arguably the single most critical–and failing–piece of transportation infrastructure in our neighborhood. As restaurants, retail, and housing around Forest Hills explodes (e.g.), and Roslindale Square itself becomes more populated as well as an increasingly popular destination to visit, it will become ever more urgent to make this one-mile connection sustainable. This includes improving the streetscape, sidewalks, and crosswalks for pedestrians; the road for cyclists; offering a more reasonably priced commuter-rail connection; and radically improving bus service. Our Roslindale Gateway Path initiative is another important solution to this puzzle. There is no reason it should take more than ten minutes for anyone to get from the end of the Orange Line to Roslindale Village at any time of day, including time spent waiting for a bus.
If our leaders don’t take real steps soon, we will see gridlock for more and more hours of the day, and extending further and further back toward Roslindale and then on to Dedham. There is simply no space to put more cars in this dense area, whether they are in motion or parked. We need creative solutions, and we need them quickly.